History Extra logo
The official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed

Map 'casts doubt on when Europeans discovered Australia'

Published: September 2, 2013 at 2:51 pm
Try 6 issues for only £9.99 when you subscribe to BBC History Magazine or BBC History Revealed

A map which appears to cast doubt on when Europeans discovered Australia is to go on display for the first time.


Novae Guineae Forma and Situs, a 1593 map that depicts a giant, unnamed land mass believed by some experts to be Australia, pre-dates the earliest confirmed map of the continent by more than a decade.

The map, which will go on display on Thursday in Brisbane, Queensland, shows a southern continent below New Guinea complete with people, monsters and Australia's most substantial mountain range the Great Dividing Range. It was created by Cornelis de Jode.

“The map contradicts official thinking that Europeans were unaware that Australia existed prior to the 1606 Dutch landing on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula,” said Dr Martin Woods, curator of maps at the National Library of Australia.

The map, which can be viewed here, is part of an exclusive collection of the nation’s earliest chartings that will be exhibited by the National Library of Australia.

Other maps due to go on display include the first European atlas of China, created in 1655, and a shark skin pocket globe from 1791.

Dr Andrew Dilley, lecturer in History at the University of Aberdeen, told historyextra: “The new map is intriguing in that the representation of the Eastern coast and Great Dividing Range is relatively accurate.

“That said, the portrayal of a great southern continent was common in early modern Europe, and there is the possibility that the map reflects that myth.

“There may be scope to debate whether the map represents earlier contact in Eastern Australia (predating Cook's first voyage by several centuries), or a cartographer 'getting lucky'. I look forward to seeing whether any additional evidence is available.

“Either way, however, it would remain the case that Europeans only visited Australia very occasionally (and usually accidentally) prior to the late 18th century.

“Perhaps the deepest significance of the map is the way that it reveals the fascination of early modern Europeans with the exploration of the wider world, and the continuing fascination these voyages hold, not least in Australia”.


To read more about the debate over the truth behind the map, click here.


Sponsored content